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Media is revolutionizing science in all its forms, from patient access to information, to technologies doctors use to diagnose and treat, to how science research brings solutions to global health problems. The JUST Science Section discusses the various ways media drives scientific advances and affects social change.

Karina Saravia
Lisa MattsonMarisa Co

 

 

 

 

 

Kay BaldwinDoug Fleischli

Science

Friday
Jul202012

Global Warming's Terrifying New Math

Bill McKibben
Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven't convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe Illustration by Edel Rodriguezexceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.…

Not that our leaders seemed to notice. Last month the world's nations, meeting in Rio for the 20th-anniversary reprise of a massive 1992 environmental summit, accomplished nothing. Unlike George H.W. Bush, who flew in for the first conclave, Barack Obama didn't even attend. It was "a ghost of the glad, confident meeting 20 years ago," the British journalist George Monbiot wrote; no one paid it much attention, footsteps echoing through the halls "once thronged by multitudes." Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I've spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we're losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.  Read More

Friday
Jul202012

Many in Generation X are 'Disengaged' on Climate Change

 Eryn Brown
Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2012

According to a survey of more than 4,000 young adults, a large proportion of Generation X isn’t all that concerned about climate change.    Parched ground at an Illinois cattle lot this year. Researchers report that many Generation X members seem unconcerned about climate change. (Scott Olson/Getty Images / July 19, 2012)

Writing in the quarterly Generation X Report — which details findings of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth, a yearly survey of Americans who entered 7th or 10th grade in 50 U.S. public school systems in the fall of 1987 — University of Michigan research scientist Jon D. Miller said that the “surprising” results indicated that “many young adults do not see [climate change] as an immediate problem they need to address … and that many young adults prefer to focus on more immediate issues.” Read More

Thursday
May172012

What Makes a Good Scientist?  

Lisa Mattson
May, 2012

Is it the education, the creativity and innovation or the scientific rigor? While all of those qualities are essential, there is also one crucial trait missing. The ability to communicate.   To communicate your findings and ideas, not only to your peers, but also to the public is an extremely important component of being a good scientist.

The skill needed to accurately explain your results to a widely variant audience is becoming increasingly important. The impact science has on our health, our politics, our culture and our society cannot be underestimated. The ability to clearly and concisely communicate complex theories in a way that can be understood by non-scientists is critical. 

While many scientists lack the skill needed to convey their thoughts to a wider audience, there are tools, websites and help available. Colleges and Universities help prepare students to write about and disseminate scientific news.  There are organizations whose goal is to provide communication tools to help scientists disseminate their findings.  In addition, there are journals devoted to promoting scientific communication.  There are even  conferences devoted to the how science is communicated on the web.

Communication about science, whether it is the latest discovery, or a re-examination of previous work, requires deftness.  Given that science has such an impact on our lives, the writer must be cognizant of his audience understanding the potential influence the information may  have. The need for the science writer to be accurate is paramount and the ability to convey the information in a  non-biased, objective way is critical to success.

Thursday
May102012

Rethinking How to Communicate Science

Laura Hermann
SXSW,  2012 

It's been 30 years since Edward Tufte convinced designers that the visual display of quantitative information mattered. We illustrate evidence to promote understanding, but our choices to express science have changed. The pervasiveness of technology in our lives generates volumes of data. Increasingly, scientists and researchers make extensible versions of their datasets available. Crowdsourcing projects generate additional data sources. The result is a new diction to distinguish fact from fiction.We used to rely on science writers and designers to translate impenetrable academic and scientific studies. Today, citizens and academics alike have accessible ways to visualize information. Is that enough? Communicating about science requires balancing competing interests with conflicting evidence. The craft of science communication will evolve with new technology and the ways we decipher the political, social and economic context of available evidence will be increasingly critical. Read more…

Friday
May042012

War Of The Worlds: When Science, Politics Collide

Scott Neuman
NPR, April 4, 2012

Roger Cone is a microbiologist, not a politician. He struggles with a basic truth: For all the scientific acceptance of evolution, many Americans simply don't believe it is factually accurate.

And when Tennessee lawmakers passed a measure allowing teachers to question accepted theories on evolution and climate change in the classroom, Cone acted. He and two other scientists wrote an op-ed in The Tennessean last month opposing the bill, which he says "started out asHulton Archive/Getty Images a backdoor attempt to get creationism, or 'intelligent design,' taught in the schools." He fears it will be another black eye for Tennessee — a throwback to the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," when teacher John T. Scopes was put on trial for lecturing on Charles Darwin's theory of evolution…

Cone is not alone. The Tennessee controversy is only the latest example of scientists leaving their labs and universities, and clashing with politicians. Read more…

Friday
May042012

Teaching Future Scientists to Talk

Jack C. Schultz and Jon T. Stemmle
The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 4, 2012

Much has been written about the need for scientists to speak more plainly and compellingly about their research. Yet complaints about their poor communication skills cBrian Taylorontinue unabated in the popular and academic press and in agencies that finance their work.

But perhaps it's too late to work on those communication skills once scientists are already established. That's why we have devised a program, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, that seeks to build and maintain those skills early—in undergraduates who are exploring research careers by working in life-science laboratories.

Sunday
Apr082012

Citizen Science: There's an App for That

Lisa Mattson
April, 2012

A citizen science resurgence and evolution is emerging.  The use of technology has spawned an increase in the number of ordinary people helping collect and report data on a wide variety of subjects. Amateur scientists drawn to a particular topic are helping uncover useful data to aid research in multiple scientific areas.

The resurgence has been spawned in part by new mobile apps  which allow participants to easily catalog and transmit data, making citizen science accessible for both the scientifically inquisitive and the tech savvy. The use of technology in providing maps and visualization tools, real-time data collection, apps, code bases and datasets has made it easy to pursue a scientific hobby and added a social component to the discovery.   

One of the longest standing citizen science efforts has been in Ornithology.  Other projects include the observation of plants and animals across the US via the National Phenology Network  which welcomes both professionals and non-professionals alike and astronomy and space  projects garner widespread interest. Citizen science projects are listed in numerous places, and the SciStarter website is a great place to find a topic that piques your interest. 

Wednesday
Apr042012

Citizen Science Project Blooms With Early Spring

Molly Samuel
KQED News, April 3, 2012

Contributions to Nature’s Notebook have surged since spring has sprung

Photo by: Molly SamuelThe participative science project known as Nature’s Notebook is closing in on its one-millionth observation. The crowd-sourced program collects data from across the country on the timing of natural events like plants flowering, leaves growing and eggs hatching. The study of those seasonal life stages, called phenology, gives scientists insight into how they’re connected to each other, and how they’re affected by climate and weather.  Read more…

Monday
Apr022012

Citizen Scientists Reveal a Bubbly Milky Way

Physorg.com, March 7, 2012

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Oxford University

A team of volunteers has pored over observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and discovered more than 5,000 "bubbles" in the disk of our Milky Way galaxy. Young, hot stars blow these bubbles into surrounding gas and dust, indicating areas of brand new star formation.

Upwards of 35,000 "citizen scientists" sifted through the Spitzer infrared data as part of the online Milky Way Project to find these telltale bubbles. The volunteers have turned up 10 times as many bubbles as previous surveys so far.  Read more…

Monday
Mar262012

A “Citizen Science” Community to Test the Hypothesis that the Uniqueness of a Person, from Memories to Mental Disorders, Lies in His or Her Connectome.

WiredDifferently.org

Every person is unique. You know this, of course, but it has been surprisingly difficult to pinpoint where, precisely, your uniqueness resides. Scientists have speculated that the properties of your mind, from memories to mental disorders, are encoded in the unique pattern of connections between your brain’s neurons. This hypothesis is plausible, but solid evidence has been lacking, because we have never been able to see the brain’s “wiring” clearly. Fortunately, revolutionary new technologies are starting to provide the right kind of images, but in torrents that are so overwhelming that no single person can comprehend the data. Read more…

Friday
Mar232012

Brain Training: Fact or Fiction? 

Lisa Mattson
March, 2012

Can you really game your way to sharper mind and improved memory  and in the process  cure what ails you?  The recent  explosion of brain training websites such as Luminosity, CogniFit and FitBrains begs the question, do these games actually work? 

Academics and researchers are justifiably skeptical.  An 2010 article in Nature  highlighted a study done by the BBC Lab UK and  British researchers which claimed that there was no cognitive benefit to be garnered from brain games.   Other reviews question the scientific rigor of claims provided by  brain training companies.  Studies which offer the concrete, vetted evidence needed to substantiate the proclaimed benefits of  brain training are few and far between.

Despite this, researchers have begun to use ‘brain training’ is to treat schizophrenia patients and control tinnitus.  Results of these studies are still underway and will do doubt be heavily scrutinized.

It is brain plasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire, remold  and rebuild itself which scientists are hoping  is the silver bullet in fighting cognitive decline and injury. This plasticity, along with other cognitive attributes are what companies and neuroscientists are betting will increase your memory and forestall dementia.

There is money to be made, so look for even more companies to offer brain training exercises as the baby boomer generation looks to stay forever young and agile.  But, until more research is done, steer clear of the ones that promise to turn you into a genius.

Wednesday
Mar212012

New 'thinking cap' technologies that control weaponry 'a step closer'

The Telegraph, March 1, 2012

New technologies that tap into the brain and allow weapons to one day be fired through mind control could soon become a reality, British scientists claim.A man wears a brain-machine Photo: Getty Images

Researchers believe that new "thinking caps", could help provide super-human strength, highly enhanced concentration or thought-controlled weaponry.

A British ethics group is investigating the ethical dilemmas posed by inventions that interfere with the brain's inner workings. Read more…

Wednesday
Feb292012

Treating Schizophrenia: Game On

Erika Check Hayden
Nature.com, 29 February 2012

Michael Merzenich has a plan for how to convince sceptics of the worth of his brain-training video games: prove that the software can help people with schizophrenia.

CODY PICKENS FOR NATURE

The intersection of Mission and Sixth streets in San Francisco's South of Market neighbourhood is considered one of the most crime-riddled in the city. Liquor shops, adult bookshops and single-resident-occupancy hotels inhabit most of the buildings. Homeless people sit on the pavements or shuffle by, many of them showing symptoms of mental illness or drug abuse. Yet behind the walls of an unassuming outpatient psychiatric clinic, researchers are conducting experiments that they believe could fundamentally change the landscape of psychiatric care.  Read more…

Tuesday
Feb282012

Train Your Brain to Delay Dementia

Rob Kemp
The National, February 27, 2012

Ever put your mobile phone down and can't think where you left it? Wondering if you closed the door behind you when you left the house? Met an old friend but suddenly can't recall their name?

Sebastien Bozon / AFP

We're all  victims of these "senior moments" as some like to call them. They're the  nagging little incidents of momentary forgetfulness that we put down to  just that: forgetfulness.Researchers say keeping our brains active can delay the onset of Alzheimer's.  

However, research now suggests that there may be more to such minor memory failings than we think and that if we don't train our brains to stay sharp, then cognitive decline and diseases such as dementia can strike much earlier in life than experts previously thought.  Read More

Monday
Feb132012

Gaming for Science

Lisa Mattson
February 2012 

If World of Warcraft is starting to bore you, why not join other individuals across the globe who are working  playing to help unravel scientific mysteries? Several online games are at the forefront of harnessing  the collective brain power of gamers to decipher complex scientific problems.

Foldit, an online game developed by the Center for Game Science at University of Washington in collaboration with UW Department of Biochemistry uses volunteer gamers to help figure out how proteins fold. Protein folding is important to solving how diseases such as HIV/AIDs, Cancer and Alzheimer’s grow and manifest inside the body.

EteRNA developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Stanford University and funded by theNational Science Foundation and Stanford Bio-X Interdisciplinary Initiative Program and Media X Programs is another online game reaching out to gamers worldwide. The EteRNA game hopes to develop a catalog of synthetic RNA designs.

Phylo is an online game, supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada,Nokia and the McGill School of Computer Science, that is harnessing the power of multiple disparate players that complete puzzles with the aim of mapping diseases within DNA.

What draws these people to participate in these non-traditional online games? Perhaps it is the knowledge that their work could help save lives, or perhaps it is just a fun puzzle and a more productive way to waste time.  By leveraging the skills of players throughout the globe, these games are attacking scientific problems in a novel way and producing real results.